George Selim's Senate Committee Testimony Regarding Countering Domestic Terrorism

Remarks by George Selim, Senior Vice President for Programs, ADL, to the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee Regarding Countering Domestic Terrorism

September 25, 2019

Washington, D.C., September 25, 2019

Mr. Chairman, Ranking Member Peters, Members of the Committee, good afternoon.  I am George Selim, Senior Vice President for Programs at the ADL.  It is an honor to appear before you today to address the issue of domestic terrorism and the threat it poses to our communities. 

For decades, ADL has fought against anti-Semitism and bigotry in all forms by exposing extremist groups and individuals who spread hate and incite violence. Today, ADL is the foremost nongovernmental authority on domestic terrorism, extremism, hate groups and hate crimes.

I have personally served in several roles in the government’s national security apparatus, at the Dept. of Justice, Dept. of Homeland Security, and White House National Security Council, and now I am at ADL where I oversee efforts to investigate and expose extremism across the ideological spectrum. 

In my testimony, I would like to share with you some key data and analysis of the domestic terrorism threat, as well as identify some significant gaps in current policy and practice that, if closed, could better equip the government to counter the threat.

Understanding the threat of domestic terrorism requires us to look at white supremacy.  Three of the five deadliest years for murders by domestic extremists in the period between 1970 and 2018 were in the last five years.  Of the 50 murders committed by extremists last year, 78% were tied to white supremacy. 

In the past decade, 2009 – 2018, the majority of the 427 people killed by domestic extremists were killed by white supremacists.

In the last year alone, we have seen mass murder after mass murder targeting the Jewish, Muslim, Latinx, immigrant and other vulnerable communities at the hands of white supremacists radicalized and lauded online.

Unfortunately, in the last two years, resources have been shifted away from these threats.  The limited information provided by this Administration makes it difficult to determine the known prevalence of domestic terrorism or what the government is really doing to prevent it.  

What we do know is that the Administration is not doing enough.  Greater transparency is critical in understanding what policy challenges remain and, just as significantly, accurate reporting on the threats to communities can help lawmakers ensure that the FBI, DHS, and other federal agencies are applying investigative resources in line with the real threats and not based on the identity or political beliefs of the subjects.

At DHS, I served as both the Director of the interagency Countering Violent Extremism Task Force and what was then the DHS Office for Community Partnerships. Both of these offices provided support to State, Local and community groups resources to help prevent and intervene in the process of radicalization to violence.   The staffing and funding for these efforts has significantly reduced and or completely eliminated.   

Last week, DHS released its new “Strategic Framework for Countering Terrorism and Targeted Violence,” which called out the heightened threat environment of domestic terrorism including, white supremacy specifically. The forth coming steps of a concrete implementation plan, and associated funding request will be the ultimate test of whether this framework will succeed or fail. 

Looking ahead, ADL’s top request is always for our nation’s leaders to clearly and forcefully call out anti-Semitism and bigotry of all kinds at every opportunity.  Beyond that, policy gaps that must be addressed include:

  1. Increased collection and reporting of data on extremism and domestic terrorism by the federal government. We cannot address what we are not measuring. 
  2. Resourcing to the threat. Federal offices across the Executive Branch that address domestic terrorism should be codified into law and must be provided resources commensurate to today’s threat and at a scale that can be impactful.
  3. Prioritizing reporting and enforcing hate crime laws – key precursors to white supremacist terrorism – and empowering local communities to be part of the solution.
  4. Supporting civil society, academic institutions, and the private sector to step up and play meaning roles where the government cannot or should not.
  5. Undertaking an examination of whether overseas white supremacist groups meet Foreign Terrorist Organization designation criteria.

In Conclusion

White supremacy is a very real, very deadly threat to our homeland. This is an all-hands-on-deck moment to protect our communities.  Solutions will require whole of government, and whole-of-society impact, and ADL stands at the ready to serve as a constructive partner as you explore these issues.

I look forward to your questions.  Thank you.